Which Parental Rights?

'Parental rights" has at least two meanings in recent headlines - (a) visitation rights and (b) rights to control upbringing.

The first meaning applies in last week's parental-rights ruling by the United States Supreme Court. It is hard to disagree - though three justices did - with the majority's reasonable and compassionate decision. In essence it acknowledges that poverty should not prevent exercising a legal right of appeal.

In this instance, a divorced, unemployed Mississippi woman wanted to appeal a trial court's decision ending visitation rights to her children and freeing them for adoption by her former husband's new wife. The mother could not pay appeal fees. The high court ruled that the state may not require her to pay. Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said fundamental rights were at stake, with the mother "endeavoring to defend against the state's destruction of her family bonds and to resist the brand associated with a parental unfitness determination."

Also focused on family bonds but embroiled in controversy are parental-rights efforts in a broad sense. Last month Colorado voters rejected a proposed state constitutional amendment declaring that parents have an unalienable right "to direct and control the upbringing, education, values, and discipline of their children."

In Congress a proposed Parental Rights and Responsibilities Act would permit a parent to sue government officials, including teachers, if the parent believes those officials have interfered with the parent's right to direct children's upbringing. Opponents argue that such legislation could lead to censorship and endanger children by preempting state and local laws for their protection.

A prime parental right and responsibility is to safeguard children's basic purity and spirituality. Ultimately, parents control upbringing by their good example and instruction, strengthening families and thus society.

Courts and Congress should increasingly cherish this prime parental right.

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